Boris Johnson apologises for past racist comments

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 14, 2021: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on July 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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Boris Johnson has apologised for his past racist comments.

During a speech in Coventry, the prime minister was challenged over separate articles in which he:

  • described the Queen being greeted in Commonwealth countries by “flag-waving picaninnies”, a derogatory term for black children

  • said women in burkas “look like letterboxes”

Johnson was asked if his refusal to disown such remarks in the past has given a "green light" for racists to spew abuse online, as happened in the aftermath of England's Euro 2020 final.

He said: “I think the best thing I can say is that I obviously apologised in the past for things that I have said that have caused offence, and continue to apologise for them.”

Referring to the racist abuse of England players following the Euro final, Johnson added: “I think what people really want to see from government are practical steps to stamp out racism and make sure we live in a happy, tolerant, generous and loving society.”

Johnson was giving a speech on his “levelling up” agenda, and was asked about his past racist comments in a section afterwards dedicated to media questions.

This part was not broadcast on Downing Street’s official stream of the event.

His apology came less than 24 hours after he refused to apologise for past comments and insisted they were taken out of context.

Watch: Starmer grills PM over response to Euros racism (from Wednesday)

Johnson said at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday: “I have commented many times about the words that I have said in the past and I think the House understands how you can take things out of context.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “Still no contrition, still no apology.”

Johnson, who worked as a journalist before entering politics in 2001 and continued to write columns until he became PM in 2019, has regularly refused to apologise for these remarks in the past.

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At one debate ahead of the 2019 general election, he said: “I have written many millions of words in my life as a journalist and I have... genuinely never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody and that is my intention."

During that year's Conservative Party leadership contest, Johnson also insisted: “I think if you look at each and every one of those columns or articles, you’ll find that the quotations have been wrenched out of context, in many cases made to mean the opposite of what was intended."

Watch: PM says ‘levelling up’ will be a win-win for whole country